Get ready to hit the beach. If you’re ready to leave your life behind for fun in the sun, you are in luck. In the July issue of “Condé Nast Traveler,” the editors have chosen the 10 best island beaches in the world. Find out where they are:
The ultimate island beach finder
Islands and beaches. Both promise pleasure, escape, beauty. Combined, they create that most elusive destination — paradise. After twenty years of global reporting, we present the thirty best island beaches in the world today. Sheltered by reefs or pounded by surf, edged by lagoons or on the brink of the deep, they range from remote alabaster arcs to hip-and-handy sandbox playpens. And they deliver on every desire. Pick your paradise.
The whole idea of a beach changes when it’s on an island. Whatever the lures of a mainland beach (and they are many), something is missing. The very act of crossing water seems to decisively remove us from the anchorage of the everyday. Even if only 120 feet separate the Greek island of Lefkas from the mainland, by crossing that narrow channel you know you’ve left the mundane for the magic of the Ionian chain, where the beaches amplify the sense of apartness — of having been shaped like the islands themselves, by some primal force. Sand is, after all, debris—the fine dissolution of rock or coral, and the agent of our passage back to where we ourselves began, as fish.
The delirium of finding such a beach, stripping down and plunging in is truly elemental. This experience is just as keenly felt if the island is — like Hawaii — a five-hour flight away from our continent, where the islands are actually the tops of volcanic mountains. The reductio ad absurdum of this island delirium is the desert island of cartoons — what Stephen King, in the July 1990 issue of this magazine, described as “no more than a hummock, somewhere in the Pacific, with one sickly palm tree growing on it.” That island is all beach. And yet the literary conceit remains that a castaway rescued from such a place is not altogether happy to be back in civilization, any more than Tarzan was when reacquainted with his noble pedigree. A curious, primitive rapture has been left behind. Certainly, you won’t leave any of these great beaches without regret. The writers who went forth and diligently gumshoed the diverse qualities of beaches — from the Caribbean to the Baltic, the Mediterranean to the deep Pacific — have delivered. They leave no doubt that island beaches are a breed apart.
Shipwreck Beach, Zakynthos
An Ionian Sea beach that would be worth the trip even without the centerpiece rusting hulk of a smuggling vessel embedded in the sand — the result of a pirate raid that went wrong. Wow Factor: Scooped out of a vertical wall of white rock, this is an idyllic and isolated beach. Best Bed: The stone-walled Hotel Nobelos is five miles from the beach, in a lovely rural setting (30-26950-27632; nobelos.gr; doubles, $380-$570).
Fair Warning: The only way to reach the beach is in one of the small excursion boats leaving frequently from several ports on Zakynthos and piloted, one hopes, by better captains than the smuggler (whose illicit cargo was cigarettes).
Cumberland Island, Georgia
For nearly a century, members of the Carnegie family owned most of Georgia’s largest sea island. The National Park System has since become an equally protective steward. Wow Factor: Animals far outnumber people (cimuseum.org lists fauna), with only 300 visitors allowed per day — about 18 per mile of beach. Best Bed: Actually, the only beds. They’re in the Greyfield Inn, an old Carnegie manor where guests gather for superb dinners (904-261-6408; greyfieldinn.com; doubles, $350-$575).
Baia do Sancho, Fernando de Noronha
Turquoise seas rolling into a secret cove of golden sand make this perhaps the most visually stunning beach in South America. Wow Factor: The reward is a heaven of sand with no hotels, bars, or peddlers. Best Bed: The newest and most luxe stay on the island is Pousada Maraviha (55-81-3619-0028; pousadamaraviha.com.br; doubles, $615-$740).
Hint: Fly from Recife or Natal to Fernando de Noronha.
Beach No. 7, Havelock Island
This nearly untouched, mile-plus sugar-white crescent, backed by the kind of hardwood forest you pray that makers of lawn furniture never hear about, is known simply by a number — proof that marketing people haven’t discovered the Andamans yet. Wow Factor: Divers — at least the romantically inclined ones — say the water lapping it has all the greens and blues of a December birthstone. Best Bed: Barefoot at Havelock’s cottages and villas face the beach (91-3192-282151; doubles, $75–$105). Go to barefootindia.com for island and resort details.
Fair Warning: Havelock is two hours by boat from the islands’ capital, Port Blair.
Antigua and Barbuda
Palmetto Point Beach, Barbuda
The breathtaking seven-mile southwestern beach is totally unspoiled, possibly because this is one of the less charming Caribbean islands. Wow Factor: Barbuda’s abundant shell-pink sands are one of its main exports. Best Bed: Coco Point Lodge lures WASPy families, some of whom have been returning for generations (268-462-3816; barbudaful.com; doubles, $810–$1,485, all-inclusive; open Nov.–April), while the new kid on the beach is the sleek, white, sexy Beach House, which has its own boat and lobster cookouts on the sand (631-537-1352; caribbeanclubs.net; doubles, $750–$975).
Hint: Bring amusements — there’s nothing to do.
Anse Victorin, Fregate Island
Some of the few who have actually gotten to it consider this among the world’s perfect beaches. Wow Factor: Soft sand; clear, tranquil water; a backdrop of palms and cliff; and a crescent beach 230 steps from end to end — a paradise which is all that, and often yours alone. Best Bed: There is but one resort, Fregate Island Private (49-6102-50-1321; fregate.com; doubles, $2,400, all-inclusive).
Fair Warning: The resort’s tariff, as much as Fregate’s remoteness, keeps away all but the most determined sybarites.
Lizard Island, Great Barrier Reef
More than 20 beaches of all shapes and sizes ring this quietly luxurious 40-unit single-resort island of great charm, 18 miles off Queensland’s coast. Wow Factor: All guests get motorized dinghies so they can search for their favorite beach or reef. The kitchen is outstanding, and the huge marlin mounted in the main restaurant celebrates the island’s preoccupations: game fishing and scuba (a tall weigh-scale on the main beach is in regular use). Rates include meals and much more (61-2-8296-8010; lizardisland.com.au; doubles, $1,320).
Fair Warning: Getting here is expensive: $330 round-trip from Cairns.
Whitehaven, Whitsunday Isles
A perfect six-mile crescent of acacia forest protects a curve of wedding-white sand, forming perhaps the best beach in Australia — high praise, indeed. Wow Factor: Strictly enforced national park rules allow only limited visits and no overnighting on land, so solitude is ensured. Best Bed: None. For options nearby, check thewhitsundays.org or whitsundaytourism.com.
Fair Warning: A thin wet suit, or “stinger suit,” is advised if you plan to swim from October through May: Local Irukandji jellyfish are transparent and dangerous.
Pink Sands, Harbour Island
Whoever named this beautiful beach did not lie — the sand is pale pink. Better yet, it’s virtually deserted. Wow Factor: Harbour Island itself is only four miles long, and the entire east coast is beach. A few palapas dot the sand in front of the few hotels, but otherwise this beach has nothing — no bars, no plastic chaise longues, no people hawking necklaces. Best Bed: It does have the Pink Sands hotel, where you can walk barefoot from your bed to the beach every morning for a pre-breakfast swim (242-333-2030; islandoutpost.com; doubles, $600–$700).
Lopes Mendes, Ilha Grande
Ilha Grande is just one of the 350-plus islands off Angra dos Reis, south of Rio. Wow Factor: Its 22 beaches of soft white sand, however, make it the most alluring. And Lopes Mendes, with almost every one of its elements in just the right proportion, is the finest of the 22. Best Bed: Visitors so unfortunate as not to be sleeping aboard a yacht can find simple accommodations at Sagu Mini Resort, overlooking a rocky cove (55-24-3361-5660; saguresort.com; doubles, $127–$157).
Fair Warning: It can get crowded from December through February.